Thursday, March 12, 2015

Throwback Thursday -- a bit of parish history

From the redoubtable Pete Konenkamp, one of the managers of the St. Joseph Parish Facebook page.

On the ground ecumenism from the late 1960s. A long-time parishioner (who's been at St. Joseph since 1959) was just telling me about this incident earlier in the week! According to him, this arrangement didn't last too long, however. Apparently folks weren't too comfortable having Mass at First Christian. I didn't quite catch what happened afterward ...

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Obstacles to forgiving

Something to meditate on this Lent:
One of the biggest obstacles to forgiving is the feeling that the other party's behavior has deprived us of something important, even vital. This confused feeling nourishes resentment. The thing in question may be material, or affective or moral (not getting the love I had a right to, or the esteem, etc.), or even spiritual (the behavior of the person at the head of my community keeps my spiritual life from developing as it should...).
To live at peace, even when it is the people around us who are causing us suffering, we must take a fresh, radical look at our frustration. It does not correspond to reality. Other people's faults do not deprive us of anything. We have no valid reason for resenting them or their actions. 
On the material plane, of course, other people can deprive us of things. But not of what is essential, the only true and lasting good: God's love for us and the love we can have for him, with the inner growth it produces. Nobody can prevent us from believing in God, hoping in him, and loving him, everywhere and in all circumstances. Faith, hope, and love make human beings fully human. All else is secondary and relative; even if we are deprived of it, that is not an absolute evil. There is something indestructible that is guaranteed by God's faithfulness and love.... 
Rather than wasting time and energy blaming others for what isn't working out, or reproaching them for what we think they are depriving us of, we should strive to acquire spiritual autonomy by deepening our relationship with God, the one unfailing source of all good, and growing in faith, hope, and disinterested love. That others are sinners cannot prevent us from becoming saints. Nobody really deprives us of anything. At the end of our lives, when we come face to face with God, it would be childish to blame others for our lack of spiritual progress.

-- Fr. Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom  (H/t Clayton from MN, on FB) 

Friday, March 06, 2015

The Mass as the Council intended it ... ?

[I posted this on Facebook a couple of nights ago, after reading an interview with Robert Cardinal Sarah on Aleteia (so far only in French). The post sort of grew as I was typing ... ] 

Thank you, your Eminence! This is from Robert Cardinal Sarah, who was recently appointed to head the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by the Holy Father. 
Le Concile Vatican II n’a jamais demandé de rejeter le passé et d’abandonner la messe de saint Pie V, qui a engendré de nombreux saints, ni même de laisser le latin. Mais il faut en même temps promouvoir la réforme liturgique voulue par le Concile lui-même
La réform liturgique voulue par le Concile ... the liturgical reform desired by the Council.

So, what does the Council say?

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Joshua Bishop

On Monday, the State of Georgia was going to execute Kelly Gissendaner, the only woman on the state's death row.  Her execution was postponed because of apparent problems with the drug cocktail that performs the deed. Also, it seems there is a temporary halt on all executions until the pharmaceutical issues have been sorted out. This year so far, Georgia has already executed two people: Andrew Brannen and Warren Lee Hill, in January.

(Photo courtesy The Georgia Bulletin)
Thanks to my friends, Gary & Diana, I have come to know Joshua Bishop, another inmate on the state's death row. We've exchanged a brief correspondence -- the lapse in which is entirely my fault. Joshua committed a horrible crime, back in 1994, when he was 19, and was sentenced in 1996. Over the years, he became friends with Gary & Diana. This friendship drew him to Christ, and to the Catholic Church. When he was 23, he was baptized by the late Archbishop Donoghue, in the prison in Jackson. Gary & Diana became his godparents, in absentia. An article in the Georgia Bulletin talks about this friendship between them. In that article, Joshua writes:
“The family of the church has saved me,” Bishop wrote. “Every day is not a picnic, but I try every day to live my Christian faith by doing something positive with my life left. Society with the death penalty say(s) we are unredeemable. But the change in me is to say no matter what they say I must still offer my life up to give back anything I can that will be positive to those I hurt and those that live around me.” 
“The family of the church has saved me. If it’s not a ‘family’ it’s not true or real. But the Catholic church that I am a member of is so, so real because I have the love of family—God’s love, God’s family, and on death row, seeing friends executed, you need that love of family that God provides,” he wrote.
Last year, Fr. Augustin Fogarty, one of my fellow Atlanta priests, died. Fr. Fogarty had for years ministered to prisoners, including those on death row, and Joshua. The Georgia Bulletin published a heartfelt testimony to this friendship. Reading it once more brings tears to my eyes again.
But he was a stern man too at times. He was open to things, but the traditions he held in high esteem. The Body and Blood of Christ—that, he said, was in essence our belief. God gave to us life so we take in his gift of Body and Blood. 
I used to fear dying, but Father Austin told me to fear only the things left undone. Take care of your heart, love others, and have your spirit clean from any hate or anger for the laws of man. 
Sometimes we would talk about how mad this place made us, and Father Austin would agree that the death penalty was wrong in his light Irish speech, nearly hidden behind his neat white mustache. 
Father Austin was our father. Lots of us did not have a father to teach us things about treating our fellowman with love and respect. 
Father Austin loved us. He would tell us each one. “I love you, Joshua.” “I love you, Lenny.” “I love you, Warren.” He’d tell each of us that man only has power over our bodies. But God has power over the men who prepare us for execution. So we should show love to them and let God speak to them through our actions. I never felt a negative thing or word from him.
Now word comes from his lawyers that time is running out for Joshua. It is possible that the State will execute him as early as the end of this month.

If you are reading this, and are moved by this, drop him a line, a card or a letter. Remember, visiting the imprisoned is one of the corporal works of mercy. Pray for him, for his family. Pray for Leverett Lewis Morrison, the man he murdered in 1994, and his family and loved ones. Pray for an end to the death penalty in our country.

Joshua Bishop, 865709
GDCP - G1-31
PO Box 3877
Jackson, GA  30233

Friday, February 20, 2015

Confess just one sin to the priest?

In seminary our professors shared stories of the "crazy days" (the general period of confusion [doctrinal, theological, liturgical] in the Church, lasting 20 years or more, soon after the Second Vatican Council concluded, until the 1980s, perhaps later), for instance, the abuse of General Absolution (Form III in the revised Rite of Penance), where certain bishops would hold giant penance services in stadiums, and then conclude with General Absolution. This practice was severely criticized by the Magisterium (for instance see the motu proprio Misericordia Dei issued by Pope St. John Paul II in 2002). We'd all laugh at the absurdity of it. Those crazy 70s. 

However, another version is something I experienced (it matters not where), in the mid 1990s, when I was in college. A penance service where after the Liturgy of the Word and the homily, the priest invited everyone present to come up to him in a line and whisper one sin for which he (the penitent) felt really sorry. I was relatively newly baptized, and didn't know any better. I cannot recall if I was limited to saying one sin, or whether it was even a sin we were supposed to share, or just one attitude, or attachment, or something like that. I was at that parish for a short time, and have never experienced anything like that since. 

It turns out, that this practice hasn't completely disappeared, and I've heard of places that still offer services like this, where penitents are told implicitly, if not explicitly, not to make what is known as an integral or complete, confession, which is what is required by the Church for a valid confession, under ordinary circumstances. 

And then we wonder why the Sacrament practically disappeared from the life of the Church?

So, just to be clear, this is what the Church teaches about an integral confession

First, confession to a priest is an important and essential part of the Sacrament. Without this, the Sacrament does not take place. The other elements are: a good examination of conscience, contrition, purpose of amendment (i.e., you are resolved to change and not to sin anymore), and acceptance of penance. 

Let's look at confession to a priest 

The Code of Canon Law:
Canon  960 Individual and integral confession and absolution constitute the only ordinary means by which a member of the faithful conscious of grave sin is reconciled with God and the Church. Only physical or moral impossibility excuses from confession of this type; in such a case reconciliation can be obtained by other means.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church 
1456 Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of Penance: "All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted by them in confession, even if they are most secret and have been committed against the last two precepts of the Decalogue; for these sins sometimes wound the soul more grievously and are more dangerous than those which are committed openly."(quoting the Council of  Trent)
Grave matter [one of the requirements for a sin to be mortal, i.e. dealing a death blow to the life of charity, of grace, in the soul] has to do with sins against the Ten Commandments. The Catechism again:
1858 Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: "Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother." The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger.
Mortal sins must be confessed, to the best of one's ability, in number and kind, with enough explanation so that the priest is able to judge the species, i.e. the nature of the sin. 
Canon 988. §1. A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and number all serious sins committed after baptism and not yet directly remitted through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, for which one is conscious after diligent examination of conscience.
§2. It is to be recommended to the Christian faithful that venial sins also be confessed.
An integral confession is one in which all the necessary steps for the Sacrament to take place are present -- 
  • A good examination of conscience
  • Contrition (i.e. sorrow for sin, or repentance)
  • Amendment of purpose
  • Confession to a Priest, including a full confession of mortal sins
  • Absolution by a Priest
  • Acceptance of Penance. (It is not necessary, technically, that one complete the penance. One should have the intention to do so, and it is recommended therefore to complete the penance soon after Confession. However, through no fault of one's own, if one forgets to perform the penance, the confession isn't rendered invalid.) 
(A note to those who are afflicted with scrupulosity. If this is a tendency you recognize, talk to a priest in the confessional about it and follow his advice. It is good, if you are able, to get a regular confessor who can know you and help you with this.)

The underlying foundation of all of this, is, of course, one's relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, one's desire to please God above all things, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to grow in virtue, i.e. in holiness, especially charity, and to fulfill our destiny as beloved sons and daughters of God -- to arrive at the life of beatitude in heaven with the angels and saints for all eternity. 

A penance service that simply asks the penitent to confess one sin is risking an invalid confession, if the penitent does not confess all mortal sins in number and in kind. If he does this in good faith, in ignorance, one might suppose that the Lord will not withhold His mercy, however, outside the Sacramental economy, we can't just say what God will or will not do. We are not his bosses! This kind of confusion defeats the whole purpose of the Sacrament, of the sacramental economy and the foundation of a visible Church by Our Lord! Fr. Z has a recent post where he rants precisely about this eventuality

I cannot understand why a priest would wilfully wish to subvert the practice of the Church in this regard, in something so central to the salvation of souls, the essential reason for the institution of the priesthood by Our Lord! 

If the reason given is that there is a lack of priests, well, goodness, we are not that short. In the United States, one can muster a good half a dozen to a dozen priests for a parish penance service fairly easily. In our area, all of our priests help out at nearby parishes (which for us means within about a 90 minute driving distance) regularly during Lent and Advent. We spend hours listening to long lines of penitents unburden their sins and receive the Lord's forgiveness and grace. To invent a shortage is disingenuous at best. 

The commission of a grave sin after baptism is a commonplace reality. However, its frequency does not change the fact that it is a serious matter. Our early forebearers in the faith took it so seriously, that many delayed baptism until they were older, or near dying! It is precisely to address this all too frequent reality of fallen human beings that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and by the authority of the Church, the Sacrament of Penance, instituted by Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, developed its form to what we have today -- auricular confession of an individual penitent to a priest.

The fact that historically the Sacrament has taken different forms does not mean that the form it has today (and has had for centuries in the West) is therefore not suited to our time. The fact that the Church has determined this form, and that priests actually trust and obey the Church, is not a sign of rigidity or legalism or Pharisaism or clericalism or any of the other insults faithful priests are confronted with when they challenge the abuse of the Sacrament. Nor is it up to us priests on our own whim and authority, to simply recast the Sacrament as we wish. If this is all legalistic mumbo jumbo, why have the Sacrament at all? Why have any of the sacraments? Why have the Church? The hierarchy? The priesthood? Why not just dispense with this medieval nonsense and, being that we're so enlightened, ask God "directly?" Actually, why ask God at all? Why not absolve ourselves? Why not just make ourselves the arbiters of good and evil? 

That was tried once. It didn't quite work out, however. 

What if one happens to end up at a service, or with a priest, who makes this particular demand -- that the penitent only confess one sin? My suggestion would be to very gently ask the priest if he can hear a full, integral confession. If he refuses, go find another priest. 

And finally -- and this could easily become the subject of another blog post -- a plea to my brother priests -- the formula for absolution is not the place for creativity and expression of sentiment, pious or otherwise. Please stick to the formula, and do not leave any doubt or anxiety in the minds of your penitents whether they received a valid absolution. Please, Father. Please! 

For more, two very good articles by Jimmy Akin on this subject. 

Father Z also has a story about the Ass. of US Priests (a group I was unaware of), petitioning the US Bishops to institute widespread General Absolution. Great, let's just give up on the whole thing, already! 

Deus avertat!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Auxilium Christianorum

St. Mary Help of Christians, Aiken, SC
On Monday, I was honored to be able to take part in the Mass for the dedication of the new parish church of St. Mary's Help of Christians parish, in Aiken, SC, in our neighboring diocese. I've known the pastor, Fr. Wilson, for many years, and had been following the progress of this project closely online. (The NLM blog has had a few posts about the project with lots of pictures -- such as this one.)

There was a large crowd gathered outside the church when we pulled up (one of our parishioners kindly offered to accompany and drive) in front of the church. The clergy were gathering in a room in the school, and at the beginning of the service, processed up to the doors, where the head of the building committee, along with Fr. Wilson, greeted Bishop Guglielmone of Charleston, presented him with plans for the building, and the key. The Bishop unlocked the doors, and the choir started a hymn as the procession into the new church began.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Charlie Hebdo

Apparently Charlie Hebdo, the French satire publication, whose offices were attacked by Muslim terrorists yesterday resulting in the savage death of 12, had once published a cartoon depicting Jesus Christ wearing a crown of thorns, sodomizing God the Father, and being sodomized in turn by the Holy Spirit. Other cartoons have depicted nuns masturbating, or the Pope wearing a condom.

This is completely vile and absolutely disgusting.

The thing is, I'd never heard of this, or any of the other anti-Christian and anti-Catholic cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo. At least not until Charlie Hebdo tragically entered the breaking news cycle.

However, I did know they were one of those who had republished the Danish cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammed.

A French publication printing something thoroughly vile and anti-Christian is hardly something that makes much of a splash. It does not provoke violent outbursts and demands for vengeance, nor does it create global news.

Let's be clear. There is nothing at all that justifies the murder of human beings, and certainly not perceived insults to any religion. Murder in God's name is an absurdity, as all our recent Popes have taught. And Bill Donohue is completely wrong: Charlie Hebdo did not have it coming. His remarks blame the victim of a horrendous act of barbaric terrorist violence. I am ashamed that he is making these remarks as a Catholic whose organization works to protect the reputation of the Church. This is a time that all Catholics must stand with all people of good will in prayer and solidarity with the victims, their loved ones, and the French people. We must work to be peacemakers, and never give in to the temptation of violence. We must pray for peace, tirelessly. Especially as the temptation rises in France, and Europe, to retaliate violently and vengefully against innocent Muslims, Catholics must show a different way, in support and solidarity with all victims of violence.

However, the questions about the limits of free speech and secularism and its relationship with Islam will once again be raised and already the debate has begun again anew.

This article I came across nails the issues at stake brilliantly: secularism is basically an epiphenomenon of Christianity. It is parasitical on Christian ideas, and Islam is really the greatest threat that it faces. Europe, with its vibrant, religious (more mosque-goers on Friday in England, that churchgoers on Sunday!), often ghettoized and marginalized Islamic minority, is at the frontlines of this clash.
But secularism is a political, legal, and cultural project that goes back centuries, with roots in the "two swords" doctrine of medieval Christianity. The target of modern secularism was (and still is, really) the Christian Church, which it sees as the instigator and vehicle of majoritarian prejudice. Secularism aims to prevent Europe's wars of religion from ever happening again, and to contain the power of Europe's churches when it comes to politics and culture.
[This project has, I would argue, been successful. Christianity as a religious force is on life-support in Western Europe. As a political force it is practically non-existent: the Church's credibility has been shattered in Ireland; in Italy, the Christian Democrats are indistinguishable from other center-left parties; Poland, perhaps, is the lone remaining country in the EU where Christianity has some political influence. As a cultural and social force, it is simply part of the background, and its tenets are often ignored: the birth rates of all Catholic countries, even Poland, are abysmally low.]
Modern secularism creates a taboo against distinguishing between religions. To judge one in any way superior to another is a step away from enlightenment and civilization, and a step toward the Thirty Years War. You are allowed to mock and hate Islam, but must make a show of doing it "equally" to other religions. You are also allowed to respect religion, but the same principle applies. This brigade of pieties exists to prevent acts of hatred and to stifle prejudice, but it inadvertently guards against any intelligent conversation about religion.
The taboos of secularism interlock in other odd ways. Modern Western secularists feel no anxiety whatsoever when they encounter harsh criticism and satire of Christianity. But if you offer a particularly barbed remark about Islam among the enlightened, someone will ask you to politely agree that Christianity is just as bad. And ironically, this instinct to protect the powerless is a leftover instinct of Christian civilization, which put sayings like "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last" at the heart of its worship and moral imagination.
And so ...
The great irony of Islam's continued clashes with the Western way of life — whether its widespread riots over a YouTube video or the murderous actions of a crazed minority— is that it has revealed, to the surprise of everyone but Pope Emeritus Benedict, that modern secularism is a kind of epiphenomenon of Christendom.
I think Dougherty has absolutely nailed it. There are others who have recognized the relationship of secularism and Christianity, and the need for religion, for that matter -- Jürgen Habermas comes to mind (his dialogue with Joseph Ratzinger is worth a read, btw).

A couple of other pieces worth reading:

Thomas Macdonald at Patheos, makes a similar point:
The other thing we will need is faith. A pallid secularism can’t defend against a diseased religiosity. Only a healthy faith can drive out a sick one.
I don’t have any illusions that we’ll see a huge turning to Christ in France. Anti-clericalism has been part of that nation’s very flesh and blood for too long. But there is something deeper in there, down in the bone and sinew: the Christianity that made France great. 
All Europe and the secular west has been feeding like a vampire from that Christian heritage for two centuries without acknowledging that Christ is the wellspring of all our values and freedoms. Since that wellspring is the very living water Himself, it will never run dry, but the walls of the well are crumbling. Even the great cathedrals, built as living prayers in stone to last for centuries, are just piles of rock without faith, as the prayers that made them live fade into a distant echo. Europe is hollowed out, cherishing abstract notions and values without any transcendence or roots. It can’t survive long in this state without something breaking. 
It’s rather poignant that the #JeSuisCharlie (I am Charlie) slogan looks so much like “Jesus is Charlie.” As much as the people of Charlie Hebdo disdained Christ, they found themselves at the foot of the cross nonetheless, as we all do. Their deaths are tragic, grotesque, and enraging, but they needn’t be futile. There is meaning even in tragedy.
A more provocative piece by the same author: Mohammed in Hell.

And finally, a beautiful piece by Fr. Longenecker on the violent backlash that may engulf Europe.
And this is where the Christian story intersects with the cycle of violence and vengeance in the world. The crucified one stands on trial and says in his silence, “You want someone to blame? Blame me.”
As they scream he regards them with compassion and says, “This is what it comes to: that you would crucify the Lord of Glory.”
And then in that sacrifice he turns the tables. In taking the blame he extinguishes the flame of hatred, fear and violence. In becoming the victim he abolished the violence and vengeance.
In this sacrifice and subsequent victory over death he defeats the cycle of violence and vengeance from the inside out.
Blessed are the peacemakers, He said. Pray for France, pray for Europe. Pray that the Holy Spirit raises up peacemakers.